President’s Fall Address to the University
Dr. Tony Frank, President
President, Colorado State University
Chancellor, Colorado State University System
October 3, 2018
As I start my 11th year in this role, this is my 10th – and final – Fall Address. The first was at my inauguration right here on the Oval. We stood at that moment on the edge of the great recession – not knowing how deep that abyss might become. We acknowledged our challenges. We said it was easy to feel overwhelmed. Indeed, we admitted we were afraid. I tried to use the monuments behind us (they were new at the time) to draw attention to the legacy of the university in overcoming challenges. I tried to paint a picture of resilience and hope.
I mention that because we stand today in a very different place, and it can be hard to remember those early years and days. But they forged our philosophy of the past decade: focus on fundamentals. Focus on continuous improvement. Do everything we do a little better every day. Focus on the students – our role and mission. Focus on our people – our greatest asset. Focus on what we can do for others – our highest calling. Never settle. Never grab any of the excuses that continuously drift past us, offering an easier way if only we’d lower our standards … just a little. Never show up ready to put in anything less than what that first-generation kid working two jobs is putting in to see if they can make their dream come true. And never be distracted. After 10 years in this role, I can tell you that there is always a crisis ready to scream at you from the headlines in your inbox, and that crisis rarely has anything to do with role and mission or the longer-term horizon.
We did those things. We did them on Day 1. And we did them the next day. And the next. And we did them again. And again.
And now, 10 years – a decade – later. Look back. It’s quite a view.
I’m not going to cover every change of the last decade, but I do think it’s worth our time to pause and celebrate some of our accomplishments – because they are the result of your hard work over a sustained period, and when we gather, we should pause and acknowledge and thank each other.
- Ten years ago, we set some enrollment goals. Each year since, we’ve had record enrollment. Graduation rates are up; gaps based on socioeconomic status, race, and first-generation status are now among the lowest in the nation; student debt levels have remained below the national average; and our student loan default rates are among the lowest in the country. Our student satisfaction rates have never been higher. Our institutional investment in financial aid is up 337% over 10 years ago, and thanks to our Commitment to Colorado, we’ve ensured access to our state’s lowest income students – providing funding through that program to almost 5,000 students. CSU remains the school of choice for Colorado high school graduates.
- 10 years ago, we were deeply concerned about the potential defunding of American public higher education. We navigated through that difficult time, and we worked with our state leadership to rebuild a solid foundation for higher education.
- 10 years ago, we had moved into the ranks of the country’s top-performing research universities, crossing the $300 million mark for the first time. We’ve now had 11 straight years of research expenditures over $300 million, and we set a new record this past year at $375M, a more than 10 percent increase in a single year. During a time when federal research funding has tightened and competition has soared, our faculty have continued to shine.
- 10 years ago, our outreach mission seemed to have stubbed its toe. We had counties questioning their investment in Extension. We were closing and consolidating Agricultural Experiment Stations. But we flipped the model, began to listen to what counties and communities around the state really needed from us, and today, CSU serves every single county in Colorado. Last year, we re-opened an experiment station at Rogers Mesa. In August, we broke ground on our new Western Colorado engagement campus at Orchard Mesa. In September, we broke ground on our new Arkansas Valley Campus serving the engagement needs of Eastern Colorado. Our engagement across the state is once again a true source of pride for CSU and a real value for the citizens of Colorado.
- 10 years ago, we didn’t have a vice president for diversity – and while we may have said some of the right things back then, our commitment to truly building a diverse and equitable campus community had stalled. The percentage of diverse students enrolled was just over 13% — 10 years earlier, that percentage was 11 percent. Today, our student population is more than 20 percent diverse, and our students don’t just enroll here, they excel and they graduate. We’ve made progress, but we have a long way to go, and the annual Diversity Symposium going on this week is one of the ways we continue to educate and inspire ourselves to move forward. Tonight’s keynote speaker, Cornell William Brooks, is the former head of the NAACP and a relentless fighter against voter suppression.
- Ten years ago, we spoke about the beauty of the Oval, but some other buildings needed work. So, we started a few construction projects. And now, with a $1.5 billion investment in our infrastructure over the past decade, we can say with confidence that we are passing on a physical campus to the next generation that is among the nation’s most beautiful.
- Ten years ago, we had good leaders in place at CSU – but our leadership team them was nowhere near as seasoned, as inclusive, and as capable as it is today. I would match our leaders on both the administrative and academic sides of the institution with any university in the country – this university is truly in good hands.
- And, as so many of you will remember, 10 years ago, we were just about to launch our first major comprehensive fundraising campaign just as the Great Recession hit. We didn’t let the conventional wisdom deter us, and we brought that campaign to a successful close ahead of schedule. In the process, CSU outstripped every other campus in the state in terms of private fundraising and donor support – with private giving topping state funding every year since 2012. Just last year, we set another goal that once would have seemed unattainable, even ludicrous – a $1 billion campaign under the banner, State Your Purpose.
This brings me to a special announcement – I get to pass along some really good news today. Last week, a year and a half before our 2020 goal, we hit that billion dollar mark. The campaign isn’t over – we’re staying on track through 2020 – but we now have the opportunity to reach even higher as we look beyond a billion and open our imaginations to the next stage.
Ten short years. Ten years that have changed our sense of what’s possible. Ten years that have passed too quickly. What a privilege it’s been to be a part of that decade with all of you.
In fact, what catches my eye as we look back over that decade is what isn’t seen.
What opportunities did we miss? Did we say enough about sexual violence? Did we fight racism and gender bias as hard as we could have? Did we stand with our most vulnerable while never turning our backs on free speech – even as some abuse it? In those 10 years, around 6,400 students who sat in seats at convocation didn’t cross a graduation stage. In fact, 202 of them are no longer alive – 55 by their own hands. What dreams were lost? What potential unfulfilled?
10 years from now, what will we look back on? What will we wish we’d leaned into? There will be moments of great pride, of course, but when the moments of pride are over, and we lie in bed at night and minds turn, as they will, to what we did not do in time that we will never again hold in our hands, what will ache and burn within us?
My belief is that we should lean into those moments. Because just as the sun rises with the new day, so will we. And with that day we can rededicate ourselves. Redirect ourselves. Recommit ourselves.
We often tell our students that their time has arrived, that this is their day. But our time has not yet finished. While we feel that ache, we can soothe it. While we feel an itch, we can scratch it. While there is breath in our lungs, we can use our voice. There is work undone that need not be left undone, and it is not the CSU way to turn away. It is our way to roll up our sleeves. To lean in. To achieve. To excel.
This is where we are on the eve of CSU’s 150th birthday…with so much accomplished and so much work still before us. A year from now, when we begin that 150th celebration, someone else will be standing at this podium, with a new vision and fresh energy and words that inspire us all to act. (I’ll get to stand somewhere out there in the trees with the rest of you, applauding, smiling, and wondering when they’re going to start serving lunch … )
And as the arc of that new vision unfolds, this is what I ask each of you to remember, and I assure you, your next President will know it. You – each of you individually and all of you collectively — are the pillars on which any President’s vision rests. You are the memory, the conscience, the character of this institution. And as such, you have the responsibility to give to the next president, just as you did to me, grace, support, patience, and yes, impatience to create a sense of urgency in pursuit of excellence.
The very first campus-wide email I sent out was on November 7, 2008. It was shorter than most of my subsequent emails because, let’s face it, I’d only been president for a day and a half.
But in that message, I wrote:
“The success of Colorado State University in the future will have less to do with who occupies the president’s chair than who is teaching our classes, who is leading our research programs, and who we admit and graduate … (T)his is the basis for all Colorado State will achieve in the years to come.”
That was true then. And it’s true today.
I’m going to close with a snippet of my favorite Abraham Lincoln quote. “I do the very best I know how – the very best I can. And I mean to keep on doing so until the end.”
I enter my final year as CSU president knowing that I have tried my best, and grateful for the privilege that it has been to work alongside all of you. And I mean to keep on doing so until the end. Make it a great year, CSU!